Just yesterday, Apple released to the public the first major redesign of iOS since it first came out, including finally ditching the green felt. Here's what’s new, what’s good, and what’s bad - and whether you should upgrade if you haven’t already.
The new has come, and the old has passed away.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard that Apple just released a new upgrade of their iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 7. The upgrade is notable since it is the first design overhaul since the iPhone was launched in 2007.
That’s right: until yesterday, the appearance of the iPhone’s and iPad’s standard apps hadn’t changed significantly since Apple invented the iPhone. The fact Apple’s first stab at designing a revolutionary mobile operating system lasted so long is quite a testament to how high in quality the first iPhone really was.
But it’s not just all in the appearance. iOS 7 also brings with it new features that significantly alter the user experience. Here's a run down of what you need you know.
- No More Green Felt: iOS’s old look was known for for what's called "skeuomorphic" design. That means things were designed to look like objects from real life. So, for example, Apple’s compass app looked like a real compass, the Game Center app looked like a card table, with the (infamous) green felt and all, and buttons and menus in general were made to look three-dimensional, as though they were physical objects. But skeuomorphic is out, and a more “digital looking”, flat design is in.
- Zoom In/Zoom Out Transitions: When you tap an app, the screen zooms in on the app’s icon, which also fades into the actual app. When you hit the home button, the app zooms out back to the app’s icon. When you tap on a folder, the screen just zooms in on the folder, etc. The effect gives the impression you’re always on the same page, just zoomed in or out.
- Control Center: So you want to adjust the screen brightness manually or you just want to turn on Airplane Mode? In earlier versions of iOS 6, you had to open up the Settings app to do this. iOS 7 has very handy new feature called Control Center that makes it much easier. Simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen and a panel of options comes up. Not only can you do what I’ve already mentioned, but you can toggle Bluetooth, Wifi, and Do Not Disturb, lock Portrait Orientation, use your music controls, access the camera, calculator, and clock/timer/alarm apps, as well as a new button to turn your camera flash on as a flashlight.
- Improved Camera App: The camera app makes switching between different modes (stills, video, panorama, and the new square picture mode) easier by letting you just swipe between them (rather than hitting a button). It also has filters now you can apply to your photos – like Instagram (or Twitter, or other apps).
- AirDrop: Using Wifi or Bluetooth, Airdrop lets you quickly share things like photos, videos, contacts, etc, with other iPhone users nearby.
- Siri Can Be a Man: The virtual assistant Siri has a new look and a new voice. You can now choose between the original female voice or the new male voice.
- Radio: Apple’s music app now has a Radio function which is essentially Pandora – but that comes with your phone and isn’t Pandora.
- Other Changes in Appearance/Functionality: There’s lots of other changes throughout, such as significant changes in the multitasking feature, the Safari app, the organization of your photo collection, etc.
- New Look is Sleek: The redesign was bold and, based on my first impressions, a success. You feel like you’re using something new and up to date, and that’s a good thing.
- The Control Center is Super Convenient: The Control Center really does make a big difference. You can access basic settings without even leaving the app you’re in, and it all around just saves time. Little things like this make a big difference.
- Who Needs Third-Party Apps?: Apple is clearly encroaching on the domain of well-established third party apps. Its new flashlight function makes all those flashlight apps obsolete. Apple’s camera app’s new filters and square picture function bumps up against Instagram. And the Radio app makes Pandora superfluous. It makes for a better user experience out of the box, but Apple should also be careful it doesn’t alienate developers by making it seem like the app store is just a place for Apple to find out what’s popular so it can copy it.
- Newsstand Can Be Filed Away: This might be hard for those without an iPhone to appreciate, but this a big deal. iOS comes with a whole slew of Apple-made apps for everything from email to music to web browsing. I use hardly any of them and would delete several of them if I could, but iOS doesn’t let you. So, like many other people, I just put all the Apple apps in a folder and forget about them…except one: the Newsstand app couldn’t be put in a folder for some reason (people said that Newsstand was technically a folder of it’s own or something). This meant this app I never use was stuck on my home screen. But no longer! In iOS 7, you can put Newsstand in a folder – where I’ll never open it again.
- App Store Bug?: The first day or so I had some trouble getting the App store to load. Was that just from overuse with everyone updating everything? I hope so.
- Folders Are Smaller (And Bigger): It’s great that folders can now hold more apps. The increased capacity is accomplished by adding pages you can swipe between, just like the home screen. But since iOS 7 zooms in to the folder when you tap on it, only the nine apps you see in the folder in the home screen are displayed when you first tap on the folder. In other words, fewer apps are displayed at a time than in iOS 6.
- Contrast with Old Apps: Many third-party apps were designed to fit in with iOS’s skeuomorphic design. Now that iOS is all changed, the old apps look awkward and out of place. Many apps were surely get updated to fit with the new design (Facebook, Twitter, and others have already done this for their apps), but not all will, and in the very least in the meantime in makes for a lesser experience.
Apple’s new iOS 7 is smart, beautiful, and easy-to-use. Though it’s obvious that major elements are inspired by competitors (e.g. the flat, non-skeuomorphic design) or third-party apps (e.g. the flashlight), that’s ok: it shows Apple isn’t too proud to admit it’s not always the first to come up with a good idea, and it’s willing to make adjustments for a better user experience. The design overhaul also shows chutzpah: the old look had worked fine for years and it’s not like users were demanding something new. The changes are very substantial, and Apple pulled it off.
As with most new software, there will probably be bugs discovered in the first few weeks as millions of people use it. And with any new operating system, you may come across compatibility issues with your old apps. For some people, that means it might be better to wait a few weeks before upgrading. Either way, the bugs and compatibility issues should work themselves out over the next few weeks, so the more substantive changes to iOS 7 are what matters: and it appears to be a winner.